INDIANAPOLIS – Count NFL Network's Ian Rapoport among the national voices who think the Browns are headed in the right direction.
On Wednesday at the NFL Combine, Rapoport shared with ClevelandBrowns.com the reason why he firmly believes the Browns can improve upon their 7-9 record, and it starts with one person: Mike Pettine.
"Mike Pettine has established himself as a pretty sound, sure decision maker who doesn't allow the outside clutter to make decisions for him," Rapoport said.
"You look at the quarterback decision, come out of camp, everyone expects it to be Manziel. Welp, Pettine knew he wasn't ready – and he was right. He didn't listen to all the clutter about Manziel."
Rapoport was quick to point out he remembers a Browns team on NFL Network that pummeled the Bengals, 24-3, not too long ago and sat atop the AFC North in early November. Rapoport is a believer in the Browns' foundation – three Pro Bowlers in the secondary, Joe Thomas and a healthy Alex Mack – so much so, that he thinks Pettine and company will return to the playoff hunt.
"Cleveland was in great position until they faltered down the stretch," Rapoport said. "I would be surprised if they are not in a similar position this coming year. They'll basically have the same team, except a little bit better. How do you handle those last games? Can you bring it home? Those are the questions, but the tools will absolutely be there."
As for Cleveland's draft needs, Rapoport says the Browns will have to craft a plan around who will be under center next season. Could that player be in this draft?
"Is it going to be a quarterback?" Rapoport said. "I would tend to say probably not high. But I think that's a question if you are in the organization you are weighing. How hard do we need to address the situation? Obviously, Johnny Manziel is taking the right steps for the betterment of his career and for the betterment of the Browns, but how secure is that?
"To me, the need is at the wide receiver position. You've got to get better there, and there is going to be talent in this draft. There was last year, and there's just as much talent this year. Wide receivers are going to be going early and often in the first round. But the foundation for the Browns is actually pretty good – especially when you get Alex Mack back."
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Mike Pettine explains why his optimism hasn't wavered about the 2015 season. Read more.
Tight End Maxx Williams is emerging as a stud at the combine. Read more.
John Greco says teammate Alex Mack will return better than ever from leg injury. Read more.
Browns players relive their combine experiences. Read more.
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